When the organizer for this year’s Take Back the Night march is asked if the event is a child-friendly one, she counters that is exactly the point of it.
A number of small children were among the crowd at Thursday's march. Organizer Jessica St. Peter, who is a public educator with Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis, said it’s never too early to educate people about gender-based violence.
“My hope is that this could be the context where you explain the words rape or sexual violence and that you don’t have to ever explain it in a different way,” said St. Peter. “We can have those safety conversations instead of waiting until you are responding or reacting to violence.”
“We can’t guarantee a safe space, but we can work together to create an environment where you don’t have to worry — even if it’s for half an hour — but you know the people around you have a similar vision of a world free of gender-based violence,” said St. Peter.
The march began at Marianne’s Park on Gordon Street, situated next to where the Speed and Eramosa rivers meet.
The park is named for Marianne Goulden — a volunteer and staff member at Women in Crisis who was a victim of gender based violence and was killed in January of 1992.
The park is used for many events Women in Crisis participates in, including Take Back the Night and their Dec. 6 vigil in remembrance of the 14 women killed in 1989 at École Polytechnique de Montreal.
“Far too often survivors are lost and we don’t continue to mark the importance of their lives and their contributions,” said St. Peter. "Coming to this space is important because it reminds us gender-based violence isn’t something that is just historic, but that we also continue to see it.”
Last week, a student-led rally at Guelph City Hall in opposition of the provincial government’s decision to turn back the clock on the sexual education curriculum attracted hundreds of people, including St. Peter.
It was inspiring to see the next generation of activists take up the cause, said St. Peter.
“When I was at city hall on Friday I had goosebumps and was crying because I was just amazed to remember that feeling, when you finally realize I may be one person, but I can change something. I can change the way I interact with people, I can change the way I engage with people and I can hold myself and others accountable to the kind of world I want to create,” said St. Peter. “The movement is as powerful as every one of their energies and contributions will be.”
This year’s Take Back the Night march is its 32nd in Guelph and began with a women’s drum circle and a round dance, where participants joined hands.
“It brought us all together,” said St. Peter.
At the park, attendees listened as a survivor shared her story about the importance of breaking her own silence and a male ally speaking about breaking the bubbles that separate people from each other.
“The event still stays so rooted in how it took place over 30 years ago,” said St. Peter. “Survivors are willing to share their stories to friends and loved one and to a community that no longer wants to tolerate (gender-based violence).
The march itself was led by the motorcycles of T.W.I.S.T.E.D, which stands for Tenacious Women Inspiring Strength Through Empowerment and Diversity, and drummers from Flamingo Mutiny Brigade of Hamilton.
“The idea of being on the street is also about taking up a space that almost isn’t intended for you,” said St. Peter. “We’re not supposed to walk on the streets, the same way women aren’t supposed to be out at night, aren’t supposed to be in a place they could tempt somebody.”
“The importance of marching on the street and taking back that space and breaking the silence — whether it’s figuratively or for survivors who share their own story of what kept them feeling ashamed or what made them believe they were to blame for someone else’s actions,” said St. Peter.